For a minute, I was hopeful.
It looked like the Mad Hatter in the Blaine house had driven enough Republicans out of his tea party to prompt the formation of a safe haven for moderate Republicans.
Get Right Maine is a group formed by Lance Dutson and Bobby Reynolds, former staffers of Sen. Susan Collins. In announcing the group, Dutson referred to the “all-or-nothing attitude” in Augusta and suggested Republicans need “to think more than one election cycle ahead.”
I particularly liked the tagline cited as “Relevance. Reason. Respect.” As most Mainers know, we’ve had a longstanding political love affair with our moderate Republicans, from Margaret Chase Smith to Collins.
Then came the news that the Republican Party wants to launch a referendum campaign to carry on LePage’s misguided attempt to eliminate the income tax. With all due respect to Rick Bennett, Maine GOP chairman, LePage’s current face-planted position began when he drew too deep a line in the dirt with his tax proposal, threatening anyone on any side of the aisle who didn’t support it.
The governor’s behavior escalated from that point, the details of which landed Maine in the national spotlight under headlines like, “America’s Craziest Governor Goes Off the Rails” and “Governor Faces Tough Questions: is he ‘playing with a full deck‘?” And those are just from the last few days.
So when it comes to reviving LePage’s income tax elimination campaign, it’s too soon, Mr. Bennett, too soon. You may want to rush right back into that tea party, but please leave the rest of us out of it. And if you are going to expend party time and resources on referendum drives, I have a few more pertinent issues warranting attention.
1. How about a referendum to require the Legislature to fulfill the referendum from 2003 that mandates the state fund 55 percent of public education? Because this referendum has been ignored for years, Moody’s Investor Service called our new state budget “a credit negative” for municipalities. When I talk to people, the quality and cost of local education comes up all the time. Property taxes come up all the time. Income taxes do not.
2. How about a referendum that asks voters if they support a moratorium on standardized assessment tests, at least until the Legislature fulfills the funding requirement? This would enable school districts to reallocate monies currently financing these tests toward putting their academic and behavior houses in order. When I talk to people, over-testing children and under-supporting teachers come up all the time. Income taxes do not.
3. How about a referendum that mandates the Legislature pass at least one bill aimed at reducing energy costs in the next session? Maine was recently ranked among the 10 most expensive states in terms of energy costs. When I talk to people about the costs of doing business in Maine, energy costs come up all the time. Income taxes do not.
4. How about a referendum that mandates the Legislature pass at least one bill aimed at supporting economic revitalization in communities hit hardest by the loss of manufacturing jobs? In all the press about mill closures in Maine, I don’t recall any of the laid-off workers bemoaning the state income tax.
My list could go on. Each neglected item is waiting for a chance to take precedence over national party platform politics and power plays. Each item is relevant to Mainers who need reasonable, respectful elected officials and party leadership to address them.
The founders of Get Maine Right have their work cut out for them.